Canada
Nancy Barber
COO, Bombardier Aviation

Europe
Simonetta Di Pippo
Director, UNOOSA

USA
Pamela Melroy
Col (ret), USAF

2021 International Women’s Day Global Virtual Event Recording – Part One
WIA Leadership Opening Remarks & Self-Introduction of Panelists

2021 International Women’s Day Global Virtual Event Recording – Part Two
Moderated Panel Discussion and Closing Remarks

International Women’s Day 2021
Panelist Questions & Answers

  1. Did any of you leave the company you were at because the culture was unsupportive or were you able to help shape and change the culture at your workplace?

Nancy: I have left specific roles due the culture within the team.  One of the key pieces of advice I provide is to surround yourself with people you believe in and who believe in you. The leadership team that you work for is critical in setting the culture of the organization, and they must be open to listening to their employees. Not every work culture is going to be perfect, but if leaders are open to listening and working to improve it, then it is worth the time and investment to stay. 

Simonetta: “Be the change you want to see”– Mahatma Ghandi

Pam: I have left jobs because of a lack of opportunities and because of culture but not because it was “unsupportive” specifically of women. You are definitely part of the culture especially when it becomes about being supportive.

  1. I’d be interested in panelists perception about the interaction and influence of politics on the space industry and where women in the political process can or do make a difference?

Nancy: No comment as I have never worked in space industry.

Simonetta: Looking for balanced solutions are prerogatives of individuals who have both hard and soft skills, sometimes learned on the job. Not sure if this is true more for women, but I’m sure that talent and skills don’t have gender.

Pam: Politics is a fact of life in every industry. Women play a critical role in politics to ensure 50 percent of the population’s needs are incorporated into decision making.

  1. What advice would you give to a 21-year-old woman who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Geopolitics but who has always been passionate about aerospace and who would like to work in this field?

Nancy: Go For It! As mentioned, you need to do what you love. There is a lot of room in the aviation industry for a geopolitical background. Aviation supports 65.5 million jobs worldwide and enables $2.7 trillion in global GDP. Most aviation companies have people working full time in government relations, and they are involved in many aspects of the business. If you think about even some recent cases around pandemic funding for aerospace, or court cases between major OEMs due to government funding levels and the ability to compete for example, it is a fascinating area of the business. It is also a very good time to get into this area as the industry is going to change significantly on the backside of the pandemic having a large interaction with governments worldwide.

Simonetta: The aerospace industry is interdisciplinary and international requiring knowledge across many fields, including geopolitics. Keep an open mind, learn skills, and grow your knowledge of aerospace while progressing in geopolitics. There are opportunities where both disciplines crossover.

Pam: There are many opportunities to work in the aerospace sector, not just for engineers. Every organization (commercial and government) has some sort of government affairs and international affairs organization and they play a key role in the success of both companies and programs.

  1. What you think about the future of WIA as a global platform for women and men?

Nancy: WIA has tremendous potential to be a platform internationally especially with the coordination across the organizations. WIA has much to offer everyone in the industry, and we can expect the organization to continue to grow.

Simonetta: WIA continues to serve a key role in the global conversation for bridging the gender divide. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, WIA delivered many events, webinars, and workshops over the past year. I hope the momentum and participation from women and men continue growing. Achieving gender parity requires a collective effort. At UNOOSA, we launched the Space4Women project to promote and ensure the female component in STEM careers and studies, particularly space. Looking forward, there is much work to do. But, together, we can rise to the challenge of dismantling gender stereotypes to the benefit of everyone.

Pam: I have noted with pleasure here in Washington DC that WIA is deeply supported at events and the annual awards ceremony by senior men and women who recognize the networking potential and also who sincerely care about women’s voices and presence in the industry. As long as the organization continues to provide valuable content, networking, and showcase women’s achievements I think it will be very positive for both men and women.

  1. Women need to be encouraged to take more risks and make mistakes. How can women be encouraged to move away from being “perfect” all the time?

Nancy: We need to believe in ourselves more. I like to use the example of applying for a job. Women will not apply for a job unless they believe they have 80-90% of the requirements. Men will apply with only 30% of the requirements. I always keep this in my mind, and say that when we apply we are most probably 50% more qualified then some of the male applicants! It really is all in our level of confidence and our believe in ourselves. Mentorship or sponsorship in an organization can really help this, I mentioned in my career overview some of the male leaders who really believed in me, and this helped a lot for me to know I could take some very significant challenges on, as they had the confidence in me, I just had to find it within myself. Also remember, the most difficult moments in your career will be the ones you learn the most from. So don’t see it as failure….see it as really good learning.

Simonetta: Taking risks, making mistakes, and learning from them is part of life. When “failure” gives you knowledge, that is when you are closer to achieving a goal.One helpful way to show imperfection and failure are okay is to read and listen to stories about successful people who “failed” but were ultimately better off because of it.

Pam: In my view mentoring plays a key role in encouraging women to believe “yes you can.” Sometimes all it takes is a third person saying that to believe it.

  1. As amazing leaders and also women you are often asked to speak at events, mentor others as Pam mentioned, serve on panels, etc. All of these efforts are on top of all of your other job and personal responsibilities. Do you sometimes feel like you have to do more than men in the same type of leadership positions? How do you handle all these requests?

Nancy: I have a firm belief in “if you can see it, you can be it” and I am very passionate about equity, diversity and inclusion in industry, so I prioritize any requests I receive around that. I was very lucky that early in my career I had very strong female role models in the industry and with the company I worked to look up to. I want to make sure I contribute to others success just as they contributed to mine, and as such I make these events a priority.

Simonetta: I believe as leader is a leader, no gender attached. The perceptions of others may be different. I feel privileged in being able to do the job I like and I also feel the responsibility of being a role model. This implies giving back what I had the possibility to gain in terms of professional and personal growth. Helping in particular women and girls, but also men and boys, to understand where the pitfalls may be found, which skills you need, what counts and what doesn’t, will allow the younger generations to acquire experiences in a shorter period of time. This is a great added value, don’t underestimate!

Pam: Absolutely! People of color also have this experience. The difficult part is that the extra workload is not recognized in many environments. Self-care and learning to say no is an important part of everyone’s personal journey. When every extra engagement is good, you have to recognize some are more impactful than others and that is where you should focus.

  1. It seems more often than not women are forced to choose career or family, do the members of this panel have children and how did you balance career and family life?

Nancy: I have a firm belief in “if you can see it, you can be it” and I am very passionate about equity, diversity and inclusion in industry, so I prioritize any requests I receive around that. I was very lucky that early in my career I had very strong female role models in the industry and with the company I worked to look up to. I want to make sure I contribute to others success just as they contributed to mine, and as such I make these events a priority.

Simonetta: I have a son, my greatest success. As I often say, my best C/D phase project. I found my own balance, and there is no a single solution. As Chris Hadfield said once: the more you know, the less you fear. This is my solution too!

Pam: There is no such thing as work life balance. We make individual decisions every day based on what is most important. Sometimes you get dealt a hand in life where family has to take more time than work – an aged parent, a special needs child. That is okay! We all have to play the hand we are dealt. Be pragmatic about it. It is essential to have a solid support network within friends and family to help cover short-term issues and to ask for help when you need it (something that took me far too long to learn).

  1. How can we encourage girls to go into technical fields from a young age and how do we encourage them to stay in technical fields, especially considering what was said about people trying to “help” women?

Nancy: This is not easy, and there is tremendous effort in bring and keeping women in STEM. It will continue to take time and both men and women leaders need to champion this effort. I applaud all the companies who have committed to specific percentages of women in STEM in their organization. It is critical to gain momentum on this issue.

Simonetta: Young students, including girls, should be encouraged to ask questions, share ideas, and should come up with experiments to test theories and figure out why things happen. Curiosity is a key driver for long-term success in any technical field.

Pam: This is a pipeline issue and the challenges at different ages are different so we have to address the full span of a career from childhood to executive career. There is not an easy snappy answer to this as people have been working on it for years with little measurable progress. I believe in the social science research that helps address systemic bias (things like gender-blind hiring processes).